December 7, 2016

On the prowl for owls

Mark Glenshaw searches for owls in Forest Park. / photo by Erin Shildmyer

Mark Glenshaw searches for owls in Forest Park. / photo by Erin Shildmyer

Mark Glenshaw has been developing a blog post about the road to a certain “addiction” of his: owls.

By day, Glenshaw is the Daytime Services Manager at Fontbonne University’s Jack C. Taylor Library. When the sun goes down, he is known as “The Owl Man.” He has invited many people on his “owl prowls” and has talked at many events concerning his work. He even has a Webster faculty member addicted to the owls, as well.

Webster University Conservatory faculty member Rusty Wandall had always been fascinated with birds. He and his wife were walking around Forest Park when they heard an owl hooting. They went looking for it, got close, but saw nothing. On their search, they found Glenshaw leading an owl prowl.

Glenshaw took Wandall and his wife on a private prowl.

“By that time, I got hooked,” Wandall said.

Chris Gerli is the owner and operator of City Cycling Tours, which conducts bike tours of Forest Park. About seven years ago, Gerli would see Glenshaw day after day, looking up with his binoculars. Gerli approached him and asked what he was watching.

“That seemingly simple question led to many enjoyable and fascinating experiences in Forest Park and beyond,” Gerli said. “I couldn’t believe that I was seeing a great horned owl up close like this.”

He immediately got in his car and called his partner, Barb Brownell, to tell her about what he discovered.

“Chris told me that I wasn’t going to believe what was under our noses in Forest Park,” Brownell said. “He brought me to the exact spot Mark had shown him, put the binoculars up to my eyes, and I was mesmerized right away.”

Both Gerli and Brownell said Glenshaw’s passion makes him a great mentor.

“He has a wealth of knowledge and a willingness to admit what he doesn’t know and research it thoroughly,” Brownell said. “There’s so much passion and dedication into what he does. It’s inspiring to see.”

Glenshaw’s passion comes from nearly 10 years of following owls. His work first began with Charles and Sarah.

Finding Charles and Sarah

Glenshaw first caught sight of a pair of great horned owls in late August of 2005 when walking through Forest Park on his way home. He named the owls Charles and Sarah.

“I thought Charles was a good name,” Glenshaw said. “There are many regal and aristocratic associations with it.”

The naming of the female owl was more deliberate. He knew that Sarah was female but did not have a name for her. He observed that Sarah would leave her hollow only to come back a few minutes later.

“I really didn’t see a lot of her,” Glenshaw said. “She was the mysterious, enigmatic female.”

Glenshaw’s curiosity led him to look inside her hollow for the first time in April, 2006. He found two baby owlets looking back at him. That was when his inspiration for a name hit.

“In January, 2006, my good friends Chad and Sarah Henry had twins,” Glenshaw said. “The universe was telling me that I should call the female owl Sarah.”

Happy “owl-liversary”

“I began seeing (Charles and Sarah) consistently starting on December 29, 2005,” Glenshaw said. “That’s the date that I use as my ‘owl-liversary.’”

Glenshaw has been observing the pair ever since. For him, learning more about great horned owls on a scientific level, being connected with nature and Charles and Sarah’s beauty are what keeps bringing him back.

“They can turn a bad day into a good day, and a good day into a great day,” Glenshaw said.

Charles and Sarah have given birth to 21 owlets since 2006. Glenshaw said Sarah nests about two to three eggs on average every year.

Glenshaw said he feels protective of Charles and Sarah.

“My biggest concern with them is traffic,” Glenshaw said. “Most of the time, they’ll fly very high over the roads of the park. Sometimes they’ll fly right at car level. I care a great deal about them, but I also know that nature works in a way that you don’t want it to sometimes.”

From interest to career

Glenshaw began taking his girlfriend and other interested people out to find the owls in Forest Park after spotting Charles and Sarah.

“My consistency, at first, was so poor that I would see the owls one out of every 10 times,” Glenshaw said. “Sure enough, when I brought others with me, there were no owls to be found.”

Glenshaw began to build a consistent schedule of looking for owls.

On average, he spends five to seven nights a week out in Forest Park. A slow week for him is three to four nights.

“Once I began to see them more consistently, I began to bring more and more people with me,” Glenshaw said. “Consistent media coverage in print, radio and television also played a huge part in getting the word out and attracting more people.”

Glenshaw led 49 owl prowls in 2012, 57 in 2013 and 68 in 2014.

In addition, he has hosted public and private talks on his findings in various locations. More recently, on Feb. 5, he hosted a talk at the Edwardsville Public Library called “Forest Park Owls: Hiding in Plain Sight.”

“To see so many people so interested in owl nature is rewarding for me,” Glenshaw said.

Some people have become so interested in what Glenshaw does that he has chosen to mentor them, sharing his facts and experience watching Charles and Sarah.  His mentorship goes back about seven years.

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